USA: Schuey steals it

Rubens Barrichello showed more pace than his Ferrari team-mate all weekend, but the reigning champion used all his guile to walk away with the win. Mark Hughes reports

USA: Schuey steals it


Six days after Canada, Rubens Barrichello felt he had a point to prove. He'd been quicker than Michael Schumacher at Montreal, yet still Michael had won the race. Sure, partly it was down to Rubens's own qualifying error there, but also he felt he could've won regardless had certain team strategy decisions been different.

For all the Montreal smiles, he was irritated. He came to Indy confident he'd again be quick. When the practices showed this to indeed be the case - he had an edge over Michael throughout Friday, the latter even taking a couple of trips off the track as he tried to match Barrichello's pace - so he became yet more determined not to give anyone the option of denying him victory. He wanted his destiny entirely in his own hands. This time no qualifying errors, no let-up of the pressure he felt he could apply to Michael.

This time, unlike at Montreal, the two Ferrari drivers opted for the same tyre - the softer of the two Bridgestones on offer. There was a bit of blistering on the rear, especially during the first Friday session, when the track temperature was 40+ C, but not enough to really hurt lap times or consistency. And it was up to 0.6sec quicker than the harder rubber.

So no tyre advantage for Rubens this time. If he was to beat Michael, he had to find a better set up and/or drive better; simple to say, mindbendingly difficult to do. But if you're going to beat Michael anywhere it'll be at a track like this. "There are no fast corners," pointed out Ross Brawn. "It's all low-speed precision work. It isn't a place where Michael can maximise his strengths." But if it's precision you need, Rubens is your man.

The only favour he was going to get was the running order in pre-qualifying when Michael was first out, cleaning up the track for Rubens, on account of the Montreal race result. Barrichello fully converted this into a better running slot for qualifying by going convincingly quickest - eight places ahead of Schumacher.

By tucking away that favour, he gave himself another; by being last man out, Rubens could see Michael's run. It allowed him to know what he had to beat and, being eight cars after him in the Q2 running order, he had time to look at the basic data. The gusting wind made the cars nervous in direction change. A little bit of front wing was added to Barrichello's car. By the time he came out, Michael's 1m10.400s was the time to beat. Through the first sector - which runs to the exit of Turn 5 - Rubens was 0.2sec adrift. But through the tight twists and turns of sector two he clawed 0.4sec back. It was then just a question of not messing up the final sector. At 1m10.223s, pole was his. It was a more impressive feat than it appeared. Rubens was running around 17kg heavier than Schumacher - around 0.4sec worth!

Barrichello's lap suggested that he had shown greater judgement in bringing his tyres in. Michael's sector two was compromised, as he put it, "by far too much oversteer. I slid it around too much, just couldn't keep it properly in line." The implication was Michael had been faster in the first sector only because he had abused his tyres, which then surrendered their grip for the remainder of the lap.

Following the two Ferraris were the two BARs and the two Williams, the first two-by-two grid in the parc ferme qualifying era. Takuma Sato was again the quicker of the BAR drivers, in third, despite having lost half a Friday practice session to a collision with Felipe Massa. He'd got the car well balanced and took advantage of superb braking and traction, the BARs able to run visibly more wing angle than anyone else. Button was tricked by the low grip early in pre-qualifying (where he was third man out) into adding more front wing for qualifying. "I wish I'd left it because it gave me horrendous oversteer." That left him fourth, two tenths adrift of Sato.

The Williams were a slight disappointment after their Montreal form. Juan Pablo Montoya had enjoyed the car's grip and balance in pre-qualifying but the changing track conditions left him with a lot of understeer. Ralf Schumacher reported a very similar story, the pair separated by 0.1sec on the third row.

A couple of hours after the race, Takuma Sato is trying to leave the paddock for the airport, but he's getting stopped every couple of steps by people congratulating him on his first Formula 1 podium. Fresh from a hard, exhilarating grand prix, he's understandably delighted. Here is a young man that has an infinity of possibilities in his future.

But never forget cruelty and danger stalk this sport, even in this modern, 'safe' era. As Sato leaves with a spring in his step, Ralf Schumacher is doing sheet time in the nearby Methodist Hospital, undergoing brain scans after a 78g impact with a concrete wall. His brother, Michael, may have won, but is understandably underwhelmed by the achievement, and his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, says with every word of his body language that he's deeply hacked off with being beaten into second again, despite having been demonstrably faster than the world champion all weekend. They are four extremely different perspectives on what was a dramatic race.

There were several twists and turns, but every one of them played to Michael Schumacher's advantage. There was Juan Pablo Montoya having to start in the spare car from the pitlane after the starter broke a tooth of the internal gear, leaving the Williams stranded on the dummy grid. More significantly, there were two safety car periods that maybe got Ferrari off the hook of having to use a disadvantageous pit-stop strategy through high tyre wear.

But don't put it all down to luck. That only explains half of it. It wasn't just luck that allowed Schumacher to take the lead from Barrichello at the first rolling restart, nor was it that he then beautifully trod a critical line of tyre preservation when it would have been so easy to have lost out, all the while with the worry of his brother's condition in the back of his mind. Those things demand deep qualities, ones that remind you that being a great racing driver is about far more than just speed.

Barrichello was quicker than Schuey this weekend - right from the moment of first practice, and all the way through the race. But being quick is only the beginning. The Brazilian won the start cleanly enough, surging into the lead as Schuey desperately fended off Sato's BAR (which was then passed around the outside of Turn 1 in a demon move by Fernando Alonso's lightning-starting Renault).

In the mid-pack, the two Toyotas were forced to argue territory in the 'no man's land' where the right-hander of Turn 1 meets the left-hander of Turn 2. Olivier Panis chopped across the bows of Cristiano da Matta, who appeared to slightly overreact in his avoidance braking. Christian Klien was left with nowhere to go but into da Matta's gearbox, this spearing the Jag into Giorgio Pantano, with the cars of Felipe Massa and Gianmaria Bruni also getting caught up. The Jaguar, Jordan, Sauber and Minardi were out on the spot, and with various lumps of carbonfibre and suspension littering the track, the safety car was deployed. Da Matta pitted with gear selection trouble that would soon put him out. Behind the safety car wereBarrichello, Schuey, Alonso, Sato, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Ralf Schumacher and Panis.

The safety car came in at the end of lap five. Barrichello wasn't happy about how much notice he got. "It meant I hadn't got my tyres up to temperature and that the pressures were too low," he said.

Nonetheless, the Brazilian racer could have heated up his tyres as a precaution each lap, but he didn't. Schuey, in contrast, was weaving extravagantly, ready for the moment, whenever it came.

Barrichello bunched up the field as he approached the slow Turn 11, then nailed it. Knowing that his tyres probably weren't properly heated (knowing, too, that he was heavier, although the rest of the world didn't at this point), it would have been better to do this further on, when the momentum of the car has already picked up, where you're not susceptible to wheelspin. Instead, the wheels tried to spin, the traction control kicked in, and Schuey sensed the moment and began to seize it.

It may sound like nit-picking when discussing the finer points of technique in a high-pressure, volatile situation, but if it was easy, girl guides could do it. Schumacher was simply more on the ball. Hauling in Barrichello big time as they screamed down the straight, a mile-long sea of humanity stacked 60-deep looking down upon them, he was neck and neck with his team-mate as they crossed the start/finish line at 200mph. The naked eye couldn't tell you which of them was ahead. The timing monitors briefly said it was Schumacher, which, if true, would have been a penalty offence (racing only restarts officially after the line). Within a second or so, the monitors changed, with Barrichello ahead, and conspiracy theorists were up in arms.

An honourable man and a team player, Barrichello hadn't taken the option of backing off before they reached the line, and didn't ensure Schuey was visibly ahead. The German took the lead, easily, into Turn 1 and in that moment won the race. Three laps later, and his task was made yet more comfortable as Alonso suffered a sudden right rear tyre deflation under braking for Turn 1, the Renault turning sharp left and sliding along the wall before coming to a halt. It was later confirmed that debris - almost certainly from the first-lap accident - had caused the puncture.

Renault was committed to a two-stop strategy for both its cars, a significantly faster way of completing the distance than the alternative three-stopper around here, on account of a) the long, long pitlane and b) the low lap time penalty for extra weight.

That's assuming you can make your rear tyres last. For most of the Michelin runners it wasn't an issue, and the Renault R24 is the kindest of all to its rears. For Ferrari, with its soft compound Bridgestones and a track temperature into the 40Cs, it wasn't so clear-cut. The rears were blistering; not necessarily a crippling problem, but marginal. The team started the race with an open mind, preferring to two-stop, but accepting it might have to be three. BAR and Renault - comfortably two-stopping - were hoping to force Ferrari to three-stop. Such was Ferraris' pace they could probably have made up the 30sec or so over the Renaults they would have needed for the extra stop, but it's doubtful they could have beaten Sato's BAR had it panned out that way.

But it didn't. On lap 10, fourth-placed Ralf's left rear tyre deflated, just as Alonso's had, and for much the same reason, but in a much more serious place - on the banking. An Indycar oval-style accident unfolded, Ralf going into the wall rear end first. As the Williams came to rest in the middle of the track, Ralf wasn't getting out. David Coulthard at this moment made an instinctively intelligent move, creating the room that Mark Webber desperately needed to avoid hitting the stranded car head-on at 100mph-plus. The safety car was scrambled for the second time and almost everyone - including the two Ferraris - dived for the pits. It took an age for anyone to reach the stricken driver.

As Schuey was refuelled, he had no idea the safety car had been triggered by an accident for Ralf. "They just told me a car had gone off," he later recalled. But the latent cruelty of the sport wasn't lost on anyone who watched as Michael unknowingly used an incident to his own brother - still slumped in the cockpit - as a competitive opportunity.

Barrichello was brought in on the same lap, but because there had been some hesitation over the radio about his instructions, he was quite a long way behind, and so didn't have to queue. But that hesitation meant he rejoined behind not only Schuey but also Sato, Button, Webber and Montoya, none of whom had pitted (although Webber would do so before the end of the safety car period). emarkably, Schuey had exited still in the lead because the non-pitters had had to slow to a crawl as they passed the rescue crews around Ralf's car.

The first time Schuey passed the scene of the accident was a deeply shocking experience for him.

"I came round and saw that it was a BMW, and I was aware that Montoya was still in the race," he said. " thought, 'No, please, not something bad.' Then they were telling me over the radio everything was alright, but I've heard that in the past and it turned out differently. The worst thing was seeing him in there for so long."

The news on Ralf was soon enough confirmed as positive and his brother was able to refocus. But move away from blood relations and a little insight into the mentality of a racing driver can be gleaned from the radio conversation in the Montoya camp as they followed the pace car past Ralf's wreck. JPM radioed that he'd been getting oversteer and why didn't they increase the rear tyre pressures at the next stop. No, he was told, we can't do that because we don't know yet whether or not Ralf's accident was due to tyre failure. We'll have to balance it with the front wing instead. No, said Montoya, let's do both! For the racing driver, deep in the intensity of the fight, accidents are for other people.

It took 10 tours - until lap 19 - for the concussed and bruised Ralf to be extricated and the scene cleared up. This helped Ferrari conserve its marginal rears, so the two-stop option became more realistic. At the restart, Schuey had the lighter cars of Sato, Button and Montoya lined up behind him, and for a few laps the BARs stayed with him. Barrichello, back in sixth, was being held up by over one second a lap by Raikkonen.

Those who hadn't stopped under the safety car began coming in on lap 24; Button first. Why had BAR not brought at least one of their cars in under the safety ar? "We thought the only chance of beating Ferrari was to run out of phase with them," claimed technical director Geoff Willis. It was arguably an error of judgement, but in the event it wasn't to cost them a place.

Behind Barrichello ran Jarno Trulli - whose race from the back of the grid had been rescued by the safety cars - and Panis, both of whom had pitted during the Ralf incident. Button retired on lap 27 after losing seventh gear, this after several laps with the telemetry showing a transmission oil loss.

"It's a shame," said Button. "The car was phenomenal. Its traction was unbelievable. We could pass cars on the exits of corners - out-accelerate them - which is unheard of."

It took Raikkonen until lap 29 to make his second stop, this finally springing Barrichello free. Raikkonen was in again just five laps later for his hydraulic pressure to be topped up, dropping him behind Panis. Montoya, yet to make his first stop, was now second from his pitlane start. He finally came in on lap 35, putting Barrichello in second, 15sec or so behind Schuey and ruing all those laps stuck behind the McLaren. However, he still had another eight laps of fuel after Schuey stopped on lap 41. The implication of this was quite remarkable. Given that their first stops were each for around eight seconds, it meant Barrichello had had around 17kg more fuel on board in qualifying - and when he'd been outgunned by Schuey at the restart.

The Brazilian made fantastic use of those extra eight laps. Again showing he had more raw pace than his team-mate, he was lapping consistently in the mid-1m10s, over 0.5sec faster than Schuey had been. Furthermore, now the German's pace on the heavy fuel load needed to get him to the end wasn't great.

Barrichello's final stop was a quick one - as he needed far less fuel than Schuey - and he exited only just behind him. It would only have taken another half a second and Barrichello would have been out in front. Disappointingly, his in-lap was one second slower than his previous pace.

"Yes, on that lap, I hit some white stuff on the track at Turn 4," he said. "I felt a bang and thought, 'That's it, I've broken my suspension', because it was a big hit. It took me a while to feel the car was okay. Without that, I would have come out in front."

The debris was from a trackside board Giancarlo Fisichella had hit when his Sauber had a rear puncture. But Barrichello was now on new tyres and Schuey was struggling to control the blistering on his rears.

He was briefly vulnerable and his team-mate knew it. Into Turn 4 he tried an optimistic move down the inside. Schuey chopped across his bows; the cars almost touched, Barrichello briefly on opposite lock as he took evasive action. He never got another chance. As his new tyre grip faded, so Schuey contained the challenge. Thereafter, Barrichello was instructed to bring the car home and the sting was gone, a race that for him was lost twice. For the second time in a week he'd lost a race he could've won. This time he'd given Michael the present of a mess-up (his first safety car restart) and still almost beaten him.

Montoya ran third on his out-of-sequence strategy until his second stop on lap 57, at which point he was black-flagged - 90 minutes into the race - for not having got off the dummy grid within the regulation 15sec of the start of the formation lap.
Sato took a fine third from his out-of-sequence run. Coming back from his second stop, he quickly closed the gap to Panis and passed him into Turn 8 on lap 40, Panis doing his best to intimidate him. It was a briefly terrifying moment as the two cars came within millimetres, but Sato is made of stern stuff and was through.

Next on Sato's radar was Trulli - 11sec up the road. It took him 20 laps to get that down to nothing, during which time he was generally the fastest man on the track. His opportunity came in the form of Webber's misfortune. The Jaguar blew its engine on lap 61. With Sato desperately trying to pass down the inside of the Renault into Turn 1, they found the Jag's oil. Both went skating across the grass, but Sato stayed straight as Trulli had a slow spin, thereby handing the BAR what became third when JPM made his final stop.

Behind Trulli and Panis were the troubled McLarens of Raikkonen and Coulthard, and, after Fisichella's puncture, Zsolt Baumgartner inherited the final point, making his and Minardi's day - maybe even their season. That point would have been Nick Heidfeld's had he not retired after 43 laps with engine failure.

Ferrari was possibly rescued by the safety cars, Schuey was further rescued from defeat by a team-mate who was plain quicker thanks to his own tenacity. He had that - as well as other, more important things - to reflect on as he made his way to the hospital.

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